Downtown San Francisco
Downtown San Francisco

Although cities and counties throughout California organize their regulatory processes differently, they all share similarities, the most common of which are a Permit Counter (permit processing), Plan Check (construction document review), and Inspections (scheduled jobsite visits).  The most common divisions of enforcement authority are typically associated with individual regulatory codes.  For example:

  • Fire Departments typically enforce the California Fire Code.
  • Planning Departments typically enforce Zoning codes and the California Subdivision Map Act.
  • Public Works Departments typically enforce the California Streets and Highways Code and Traffic Code and FEMA flood zones.
  • Utilities typically enforce the California Public Utility Code and Public Resources Code (water, natural gas, electricity, sanitary sewer).
  • Environmental Health Departments typically enforce the California Health and Safety Code (food and drink, insects and vermin, lead paint and mold, etc.)  and private sewage disposal (septic system) and water supply (wells).
  • Building Departments typically enforce the California Building Standards Codes (building, electrical, plumbing, mechanical, energy, green building, etc.).

The enforcement of other important design elements and construction activities, such as:

  • boundary and topographic surveys
  • property easements and right-of-way encroachments
  • leadership in energy and environmental design (LEED)
  • crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED)
  • grading and geotechnical mitigation (landslide, seismic liquefaction)
  • privately maintained infrastructure (sewer, drainage, access road, “clean water” pre-treatment, etc.)

vary among jurisdictions, and many jurisdictions contract portions of their enforcement services with private firms or other jurisdictions.  In all cases, however, it is incumbent upon the applicant to determine Who-Does-What-When.

Permitting is required by state law, and is a vital component for insurance claims, litigation, financing, and sales (  Although the permitting process is necessarily complex due the one-size-fits-all legal formatting of individual codes and the illusory coordination among codes, successful navigation through the process need not be overly time-consuming, frustrating, or expensive.  The building industry has competent expediters, design professionals, and contractors to support you (see our Advertisers page), and many jurisdictions have permit coordination staff to assist you.  There is no substitute, however, for keeping yourself fully informed.   An ounce of informed research is worth a pond of uninformed frustration.